Traditional educational theory and practice tends to isolate the development of the body as separate from and inferior to the development of the intellect. Dr. Montessori identified the close relationship between movement and the development of the intellect. An infant relies totally on random movement at birth. At some point in that random movement the infant grasps an object. Eventually the grasping becomes intentional. A random movement becomes the spark that awakens in the infant an awareness of her power and movement then comes under the direction of the child’s mind and will.
“Movement helps the development of the mind, and this finds renewed expression in further movement and activity. If follows that we are dealing with a cycle, because mind and movement are parts of the same entity . . . Now the muscles directed by the brain are called voluntary muscles, meaning they are under the control of the will, and willpower is one of the highest expressions of the mind.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 146)
The primary purpose of the Practical Life exercises is to assist the child in developing refinement of movement and coordination of bodily movements among the parts of the body and to put the child’s movements under the direction of the mind. The young child, 2 1/2 to 6 years of age, has an intense interest in exercising the use of his/her voluntary muscles. During this sensitive period it is imperative that the child be given opportunities to develop coordination of his movements.
“Since he must develop himself through his movements, through the work of his hands, he has need of objects with which he can work that provide motivation for his activity.” (Montessori, The Secret of Childhood, p.82)
The exercises of Practical Life are both the objects for the child to work with and the motivation for the child to refine his/her movement. Through the repetition required to refine movement the child develops the ability to concentrate. The child who has achieved a high degree of refinement in these exercises achieves independence and self-discipline.
“A child who has become master of his acts through long and repeated exercises, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline.” (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child, p. 91)